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How to Grow Your Career in a Down Economy
You can progress when things slow down
In the dot-com crash, I was an internet salesperson selling to dot coms…Unsurprisingly, I was STRESSED. I jumped ship to a company that had gone public in the dot-com run-up, only to crash, contract, and ultimately sell to an acquirer.
8 years later in the 2008 recession, I had a great job running Oracle’s awareness advertising but felt like my career was stalling out. No increased budgets, no more team members, no promotions, no new things, no bonuses… we were preserving cash to weather the storm.
In both instances, the next chapter propelled my career to great heights. And I’ve seen this story play out across so many executives’ careers. What you do in the recession sets you up for future leaps. My dot-com crashes helped me move from sales to marketing, and my Oracle experience helped me get my illustrious Atlassian job.
The economy right now sucks, and has not yet hit bottom. It would be normal to be despondent. But if you press forward with enthusiasm, grit and creativity, this could be an amazing career opportunity.
I ran cross-country in high school. My coach taught me that you win on the downhill. Everyone pushes hard up the big climb, only to be winded and slow down to catch their breath on the downhill. If you run fast and push down the downhill you can pass the others and get ahead.
Think about skills more than raises and promotions
When we were in boom times, you could jump between companies for raises, bigger titles, and more equity. Your current employer might have rushed you through stages to keep up with the compttition. That momentum has come to a grinding halt as companies are conserving cash, hiring has slowed, and there’s a ton of supply of new employees compressing salaries. So instead of focusing on the fast win of salary or title or more equity, double-down on new skills. What can you learn in this job / at this company that will be valuable here and elsewhere? How can you get deep knowledge and deep expertise in something specific that builds out your impact? People will ultimately pay you more for what you know and what you can do. You can control making yourself more valuable, even if you can’t collect on it yet.
The last boom also created a lot of expectations of over-titling and over-promoting. Companies were so desperate they promoted and hired up faster than the experience of the people might have warranted. It used to take several years to move through each title level. It’s okay to accept staying in a role for a bit longer than you might have hoped, really building out the skills to be successful in the next role. We’re not in the one-year to get promoted to the next level land anymore.
Take on new responsibilities
Like my cross-country coach said, people who are winded slow down. People are tired. There’s malaise. Things aren’t as easy and good as they used to be. We have to do more with less. Now is the time to lean into the white spaces in your business - the spaces where there’s an issue that no one owns or a project you know needs to be done that no one is stepping up to do. Where are those spaces in your business or team? How could you step into them to help? You have to do your own work well, of course, but if you can find things the business really needs and help fill in, you can get visibility, skills, make an impact, and build relationships outside of your core swim late. In an IC role, this can be a project. As a C-Suite leader, this can be a strategy or x-company initiative. Companies don’t have the money to keep hiring. That leaves more needs than perfect people for those needs. You can take on projects no one would have given you because there’s no one else to do them! They just need someone smart and willing to do it.
Build meaningful relationships through a good attitude and good work
There are two things other people like from their colleagues:
A good attitude and collaborative style
Great work with results
When people are depressed (the economy isn’t going well, the company isn’t doing well) they appreciate people who make them feel better instead of worse. I sometimes fall into the trap of commiserating and complaining, listening to my inner whiner… “this is hard.” But I personally gravitate toward CAN DO people. People whose actions, words, and tones indicate
“This is hard. I love hard. Let’s do this.”
If you can be one of those people, you can build relationships in tough times that will propel you in the good times. You know who someone wants to be in the trenches with in a tough war? A CAN DO person, not a Eeyore.
Good work and results. This is the hard part right now. Results are HARD to get. So focus on the good work steps you can control. Think strategically and broadly, have a plan and measurements. Highlight what you will learn when and when you will adjust the plan based on the results of data. Break big issues down into steps you can control. The economy is making everything HARD. What you can do is be organized, responsive, insightful, and determined. This economy will take a lot more perseverance and mental toughness than we’ve been training for these last few years. But if you push yourself now, you can come out stronger. And being smarter and stronger will help you grow your career.
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